To Soothe the Savage Beast

IMG_0306Newport, Rhode Island is known for its Summer Folk and Jazz Festivals. In the 60’s, I used to cross the Mount Hope Bridge over Narragansett Bay and join lots of other “hippies” who set up on a hill outside the festival fence to listen (for free) to the famous folk singers of the day like Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary.  Some even camped out on that hill for a week. One year, the powers that be tried to stop the annual “love in” but it ended with everyone storming the fence and climbing over to the other side to join the paying fans.

In 1965, Bob Dylan decided to put down his acoustic guitar and go electric, which didn’t go over big at all. Hissing and booing and other threatening beastly sounds ensued. It was not a peaceful night on the hill. Leading members of the folk movement were critical of Dylan for performing with an electric band. They preferred his more politically active  lyrics and acoustic folk style. The Newport Festivals of today are much calmer and still attracting world-class performers. The Jazz and Folk Festivals are held at Fort Adams, bordered on one side by the Atlantic Ocean. Just try to storm that place to get in for free!

Now, Newport, Rhode Island also is famous in that during the Gilded Age (1870-1900),  rich,  American tycoons built their “summer cottages” (extravagant mansions) along the ocean front to escape the heat of the city for a few weeks each year. Some of the more famous mansions are open to the public today under the auspices of the Preservation Society of Newport County including “The Breakers”, “Rosecliff”, “The Elms”, “Marble House” and “Chateau Sur Mer”. Tours are run year-round and during the month of July, a music festival (this is its 48th season) is held inside those “cottage” rooms once used to entertain the rich and famous of the past.

I was there on Tuesday morning for a performance at “The Elms”. This incredible  mansion was copied from “Chateau d’Asniers”  in France. The famous architect, Horace Trumbauer was hired to build this summer home for the coal baron Edward Julius Berwind and it was completed in 1901.

The day was sunny with a gentle, cooling breeze coming in from the ocean. It was the perfect setting for So-Mang Jeagal, from Seoul, to perform six piano pieces  Op. 118 (1892) of Johannes Brahms. Other musicians, including famed French violinist Diego Tosi, played featured works of German composers in a program entitled “Guten Morgen”  and it was, indeed, a very good morning. It was interesting to note that this was advertised with the words “See the Festival go electric!” as Tosi plays an electric violin. I think Dylan would approve of this modern change along with the American debut of the revolutionary innovative Boganyi Grand Piano also known as the “Bat Piano” which, eventually, will go on sale to the public to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars.

But Newport isn’t the only place in Rhode Island where, to quote William Congreve, “Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast” (often misquoted as “beast”) . The little village of Kingston is holding its 28th annual Chamber Music Festival  at the University of RI (my Alma Mater) attracting fantastic musicians from all over the world. On Friday, we heard Grammy award-winning guitarist Jason Vieux perform Spanish songs by Manuel de Falla. Saturday afternoon I attended  an open rehearsal of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’ guitar quintet and on Saturday night, Bulgarian-born pianist Viktor Valkov performed an extraordinary program of pieces from Couperin,  Froberger, Wagner and ended with Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata.

I returned from Sunday’s performance captivated by the sound of the festival’s artistic director, pianist Natalie Zhu’s  Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D Minor along with Bella Hristova on violin and cellist, Wilhelmina Smith. I had listened to them practice on Saturday and thought the piece could not be more perfect but Sunday evening, they were absolutely magnificent. It was an exuberating, touching performance which brought tears to my eyes.

My dad had a dance band. I remember, on Saturday evenings, the smell of paste shoe polish and the sound of his saxophone tuning up downstairs getting ready to go out on a gig. That’s why I couldn’t miss the saxophone quartetProject Fusion, playing Bach’s “Italian Concerto.” You’ve never heard Bach until you’ve heard it played by four zealous young saxophonists!

And that reminds me, Charley and I attended a wonderful multi-media performance on the life of Johann Sebastien Bach by Steven Hancoff at the Courthouse Center for the Arts (just down the street from us) on Wednesday night.  “From Tragedy to Transcendence, Bach, Casals, And the Six Suites for Cello Solo” was full of history and music and illustrations from artwork inspired by Bach’s music and life.

There is so much happening here in southern Rhode Island and if you are ever in my neighborhood in July and you love music, this is a wonderful place to calm a restless soul and take a brief respite from our weary world. And during the day, you can drive a few miles to spend time in the sunshine on one of our many beautiful beaches. We live in “The Ocean State” and are quite proud of our sandy coastline.

Whether you choose to call it “Beast” or “Breast”-  the music, soft sands and sunshine will soothe you here in Little Rest. Have a peaceful week.

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74 thoughts on “To Soothe the Savage Beast

    1. Growing up with a musician and playing a few instruments, myself, I never could get enough. I still love folk and rock but tend to always tune in to the classical channels in my later years. I would really have loved to learn how to handle a bagpipe – but I think those days are long past. Thanks, Mary. Hope the book is coming along well. Clare

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      1. I didn’t do as much writing as I hoped because the sun came out. When this happens in Scotland we have to take advantage of it and as I can’t see the screen on my laptop in the sun I was forced to read instead 🙂 Now, if Kindle can have a screen which works in sunshine, why not a laptop? Anyway, the sun never lasts long here so I was able to get some work done, especially on the timeline. I know it won’t matter to a reader (who won’t know any different) if dad’s licence was taken away before the second hospital visit or the third – but I need to be clear. Going forward, slowly, but going forward.

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      2. Mary, I’ve finally gotten back to writing my mystery after almost 3 months away and I’m not pleased with what I see. It needs a real overhaul, so I know what you mean when you mention checking details., I am wishing you many more sunny days even though it takes you away from your book. Priorities! Clare

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  1. Such an interesting journey you give us and I must note that although the interior of The Elms is very French indeed the exterior is very English … what a beautiful place and I would never have guessed its real location. Thank you – as ever I learn!

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      1. Very much so – in fact I have just returned from a morning with the Architect Historian for our departement and have been discussing nice things to do with the appropriate way to present the house as well as some rather more daunting things that I will be writing about down the line 🙂

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      2. I imagine there are rules about restorations even in the French countryside. Here we have an historical society that confers plaques on buildings of significance and then requires any changes to adhere to strict rules. We actually have a road in South Kingstown designated as an historic landmark. I am looking forward to the further adventures with your home in France. 🏰 Clare

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      3. No rules at all unless you are on the list of Monuments Historiques de France and as our little house was previously a watchtower built in 1203, we are. It’s a double edged sword but we wield it kindly and so far have had nothing but help for the powers that be 🙂 I am intending to write a post later this week – I realise it’s been months – but they have been months filled with a different culture and that is a VERY good thing 🙂

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  2. Love-ins! Folk music! Joan Baez! That took me back a bit. I think I still have a Joan Baez LP somewhere. My Bob Dylan LP got candle-wax on it at a party. (We liked to party by candle-light, and there were always far too many candles around the stereo.)

    And yes, I understand why Bob got booed – his electric guitar would have been seen as a sell-out. BTW, you look so glam in that photo. No hint of the hippy at all. 🙂

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    1. Candle wax and patchouli incense! I have many of my old LP’s but they’re not in very good shape. I love the covers, though.
      Thank you for that BTW! I couldn’t find my old love beads and head bandana, and you can’t see my bell-bottoms in the photo, so the hippyness got lost somewhere in translation. The young pianist with me is definitely someone to watch. I think he has a bright future ahead. 🎹 🌻 😊

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  3. Your narration style did have a soothing effect on me, thank you, Claire! I would love to visit this place one day, I am fond of music and beaches. What can be better than listening to beautiful sounds of various instruments and ocean waves…But why is it so far? My best summer wishes!

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  4. Your piece reminded me of home here, Clare. I live within earshot of the Glastonbury Performing Arts festival, and am able to ascend a privately-owned hill which overlooks the site’s main stage, so I get to sense the excitement and hear the music, but without the crowds, aggravation and mud! And like you, my own tastes have turned to classical music in my later years – the music of the Baroque and also contemporary classical music, though I’m not keen on the romantic period and most of what came after until the 20th. c. All best wishes, Hariod.

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    1. You’re very fortunate to live near the sounds of music. In A Berkshire Tale, the little kitten, ZuZu, lives in a barn at Tanglewood. This is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She goes in search of the music and discovers a violinist playing Mozart. I would love to live in a place where I could fall asleep to the music in the air. I like the Baroque Period but must admit, I’m a Romantic at heart. We’ll be traveling to the Berkshires this week to deliver more books and will take some time off from business to hear Mozart and Mahler under the stars at Tanglewood. My best wishes to you, too, Hariod. Your friend, Clare

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  5. Being British – and a pedant – I’ve always known your title phrase from the Congreve original:

    Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast,
    To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

    Those lines have always seemed so powerful to me, and you have captured beautifully the ability of music, especially when enjoyed in wonderful surroundings, to dig deep into our souls. I’ve just added a location to my ‘when I’m allowed to travel’ list!

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    1. Dennis, Most of our summer has been incredibly quiet, but all of a sudden the music festivals came to town and we’ve been out every night. Also, we just got back from a little jaunt in the Berkshires to market my newest children’s book and we went to a concert at Tanglewood. I’m feeling sooooooooooo cultured right now, I can’t stand it! And yes, we drove around in Charley’s sports car, not my old Subaru! Roxie is very angry that we left her again and that the new book is not about her. I think she’ll be writing a post very soon to announce her feelings to the world. 😹 Take care.
      Clare

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    1. Thank you, Arti! You’re very kind and thoughtful to have done such a lovely thing. I’ve been an award-free blog from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it when someone like you gives me that kind of honor. I’ll visit you tonight and see what you’ve been up to during your holidays. 🌹 Clare

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  6. I have wonderful memories of Newport…of course, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary have always been favorites…and well, Doug liked Dylan…I like his songs when Peter, Paul and Mary sang them, 🙂 Looks like you had a lovely visit in a gorgeous setting with beautiful music, can’t beat that! So glad you got to the Berkshires as well….they have their own charm and magic. Love, Jo

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    1. Jo, I would really like to live up there, but Charley’s grandkids are here in RI and that is an important factor in where we call home. I think next summer we’ll have to spend a few weeks there, though, because of scheduled workshops centered around the books. We can’t be driving back and forth every week, so planning events close together is imperative. And then there’s the South County Mystery, which hopefully, will be done by then and need to be marketed here in RI. Self-publishing has many hats, and marketing is a big one. But I like meeting people and so, it isn’t that bad.
      Did you stay in Newport recently? It really is lovely on that side of Narragansett Bay, but right now it’s tourist season and I have to admit, I like it better in the fall. Take care. Love, Clare

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      1. Jo, I’ve been involved with that group since moving to South Kingstown in 1975. I became a member of the SK Women’s Commission and our goal was to set up workshops on women’s health issues and get funding for safe houses. Forty one years later, things are much better for women. If you’d taken the job, we may have met earlier! Clare

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      2. OMG. I really loved the program and especially the gentleman who showed me around Newport (the Board chairman I thought.) I think it was around 1989-90. I met all the staff and the committee interviewing me was wonderful. Doug is Presbyterian and those are few and far between in New England (which we feel a real affinity for). He has served a United Church of Christ church but it felt like too big a risk to me for him. He was 100% percent supportive of my taking the job and we truly were charmed by Newport (Doug has been to the Music Festival, I haven’t). Hard to believe we could have met so long ago! On another note: Have you ever checked out Syracuse’s Jazz Fest. It’s free and has a great turn-out and had great artists Dave Brubeck, Diana Krull, Chuck Mangione (from Rochester) is a fave. Anyway, our “small world” experiences are so amazing! Jo

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      3. I’ve never been to that Festival but have seen all three of those musicians at other times. Yes, it is a really small world and we seem to be living parallel lives. Our Church is part of the UCC and very active in social causes. There seems to be a pressing need for pastors in New England and many churches are working with interims. It’s a tough job.

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      4. It really is not an easy job, very demanding, more an all encompassing life style than just a job, but then all the way back to when we met neither of us wanted just a job. I think many millennials do care about values and social issues (hence Bernie’s success with them.) But we push STEM so much now that the arts and social sciences are less popular…let alone philosophy and theology! I wish there was more balance, lying and yang, right brain and left, literature and the arts and science. Oh, another place I think you would like is the program at the Chautauqua Institution, Doug’s family had cottages at Chautauqua Lake and he worked at the Institute some summers…you and Charley would love the educational programs and the music. Lovely place.

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      5. Yes, it can take a toll on a pastor and his/her family.And it will take him time after he retires in January, to wind down. I know you love tour gardens and/or home, so the move to Raleigh will be a big change, too. Now I, have two more places to visit, Syracuse Jazz Fest and Chautauqua Institute. But Charley will need to have some golf courses near by. We are set in place here for awhile except for short trips to Cape Cod and Maryland. I start teaching that OLLI workshop next week and I think it’s going to be time-consuming because I intend to do individual out-of-class sessions with the participants. We’ll see???

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      6. Lots of courses in Syracuse and I think perhaps near Chatauqua in nearby Jamestown. Your summer sounds busy and wonderful! I think once a teacher always one. Even when I was Director of Family Services I would teach an adjunct class now and then. What is OLLI? Love the idea of some individual time.

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      7. Osha Life Long Learning Institute. There are about 170 of them throughout the United States dedicated to providing college classes for seniors over 5o. There are lectures, workshops, courses, trips, mahjong, book, computer, technology, poetry, writing and walking groups. And lots of other good stuff. URI has one of the best. I’ll do a post on it sometime. Check and see if there’s one in NC near you. It’s another thing you can do together when Doug retires.

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      8. Oops. Domestic Violence program. Loved their board but decided against it. We interviewed over several days in the fall and it was charming there. The idea of the crowds was a factor, but the biggest was what seemed like a lower chance for Doug to find a church nearby. We stopped a number of times in the Berkshires and I loved that area. Actually we are only in NC because of our kids and grandkids so I totally understand. We’d ideally be in some cottage in Cape Cod otherwise. Sounds like your writing is really taking off. I am so happy for you! A few weeks in the Berkshires will be lovely, then back to the grandkids. So enjoy our “talks!” Love, Jo

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      9. Check out Shakespeare and Company’s production of “Or” if you are up there and I hear “The Stone Witch” is about a writer, so get tickets to that, too. “Or” is about the first woman playwright. Very well done. The writing has yet to take off but the marketing keeps me really busy. Maybe someday, I’ll break even and be able to finance a major project?

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      10. It sounds wonderful…wish we could. With what’s going on for Doug traveling not in our near future. I love your writing and absolutely believe you are going in the right direction and will get there! In the meantime, travel and adventures in marketing with some music and gardens with Charley as well…sounds like a good life!

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    1. No, that would be the Dirty Llama. The rabbit is quite docile, sometimes to the point of appearing deceased (like the parrot in the Monty Python Sketch). I did make note of that persistent misquote in my post, but I loved the beastly statues outside the mansion (particularly the one tearing the alligator apart with its bare teeth) so I went with Beast in the title.

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      1. Boots are handy to have around a barnyard. Maybe that’s where it originated? Or perhaps she has a different color around her hooves! Not sure. The creature’s fleece is too full of straw and the like to notice any change in color.

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  7. Such memories of the 60s Clare. I’m not sure whether they make me feel young, or just plain old! It sounds as though July’s the time to visit Rhode Island, although I thought most tourists came to your area in the autumn. Your photos are beautiful and, including that lovely one of you with So-Mang Jeagal.

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    1. If you love music, July is the time to be in RI. But the Fall is definitely the most beautiful season and the weather is almost perfect (except when a hurricane heads our way in September or October).But I even love the smell of the air during these storms. It’s exhilarating! Although New England is a Mecca for Fall tourists, our RI beaches draw in lots of people during the hot summer months. If you come to visit, you can stay at our place any time.

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      1. It all sounds and looks totally idyllic, Clare, and I’d love to see it all, one day. Thank you for the kind and very generous offer! Who knows, I may be pooping over to see you in the next few years. It would be lovely to meet you.

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