In June 1988 I hiked to the top of the Flatiron at Lost Dutchman State Park with my friends Mike Burger and Les Blanford. This State Park is also part of the Tonto National Forest and provides entrance into the Superstition Wilderness area. It is quite a rugged climb and a challenging bit of exercise negotiating the steep incline toward the upper slopes, but well worth the effort for the picturesque quality of the breathtaking views from above. We enjoyed one of those spectacularly lovely days in the clear atmosphere of Arizona. Following is a gallery of photographs from that memorable hike. In previous blog-posts I have indicated how these outdoor expeditions have sparked my imagination and moved me to record some musical improvisations on my vintage accordions. In "From Lofty Heights to Shadow-Filled Canyons," I added the You Tube video entitled "Lyric Poem for Accordion," and in "Heralds of Majesty - Hiking in the Arizona Wilderness" I added the video "Fanfares & Reveries for Vintage Hohner Accordion." Here follows part of the visual journey with a selection of images from our Arizona trek.
Impresiones Acordeon: En vista de las montanas Watchung; Akkordeon Impressionen: In Anbetracht der Watchung Mountains; Akordeon Impressions: W zwiazku z Watchung Gorach; Accordion Impressions: In View of the Watchung Mountains. This improvisation reflects upon some of the experiences I enjoyed while delivering mail for the Somerville Post Office in 1975 and 1976 in Somerville, New Jersey.
Some of the delivery routes in Somerville were mounted routes which utilized Jeeps for motorized transport, while other routes involved walking from the main office to the point of delivery and then walking back after delivering the assigned route. I had the pleasure of delivering many neighborhoods in this area and then taking time for lunch at a pre-determined place such as the Somerset Medical Center. You were allowed 30 minutes for lunch, just enough time for a quick salad or sandwich at the Medical Center's coffee shop and café.
While enjoying lunch, I often would gaze out the window looking North to the beauty of the Watchung Mountains, a lovely stretch of low hills which dotted the horizon in magisterial fashion. The entire line of hilltops was visible from the large windows at the café, a view which I can still vividly remember to this day. Though these hills measured between 400 to 500 feet in elevation at some points, the image they presented from a distance suggested they were just barely visible, perhaps seeming to measure only slightly higher than the far horizon. But what beauty they did possess, drawing my eye along the characteristic contours of their solidly impressive length.
So my vision was drawn to these contours along the North horizon, a moment which I have attempted to capture in this impressionistic music. I came to love these neighborhoods where I delivered the mail, walking down the tree-lined streets and boulevards, envisioning both angular entities and smooth transitions along the well-kept lawns and clean sidewalks and spacious driveways. There was a palpable atmosphere of small town America in such lovely neighborhoods, almost as if every day could be considered a cinematic adventure enlivened by the noble outreach of our appointed tasks.
This music attempts to clarify some of these artistic impressions, a retrospective recollection of events which transpired some 37 to 38 years ago. Performed upon my vintage 1950's Scandalli, a 4/5 reed instrument in LMMH configuration.
One of the joys of delivering the mail is seeing all aspects of a particular neighborhood and getting to know the customers who live along the streets and boulevards of a geographical area. When I started as a Letter Carrier in Somerville, New Jersey in June of 1975, I quickly became immersed in the sensory elements of walking different routes and observing the manifold varieties of visual beauty along the way. You notice the noble green avenues of leafy trees and freshly cut lawns, the trimmed hedges and colorful flower gardens, the lovely architecture of historical homes with lace-curtained windows and white trimmed wooden porches. It is almost like a nostalgic scene from Rod Serling's "Walking Distance," a favorite Twilight Zone episode from October, 1959, where Martin Sloan (Gig Young) goes back in time to an earlier and more idyllic age. You can sense the history of small town America and envision the mystery and the majesty of a thousand different patterns involved in the life of a petite representation of civilization.
The accordion improvisation above is a response to my memories of delivering the mail in Somerville and often catching a glimpse of the distant horizons as seen from the streets where I was walking my assigned route. I remember so distinctly the beautiful lines of the Watchung Mountains to the north, how these shapes seemed to dominate the horizon in a poetic and thoroughly engaging manner. You could trace these artistic lines with your eye and never tire of their encompassing beauty or subtle power of expression. To me it seemed like a form of musical expression in which I took considerable delight. As I do not have a pipe organ, I have tried to capture via the accordion a sense of the musical nature of those moments in time.
Reflections Upon Rural Images and Country Roads
Along Washington Valley Road in Warren, New Jersey. This area features some of the nicest rural roads in the Garden State, although it has increasingly lost farmland to residential and commercial development over the years. In the Summer and Fall you can find fruit and vegetable stands which offer a fine assortment of country goods.
Springdale United Methodist Church, Warren, NJ. Building erected 1840-41, enlarged in 1894, with small bell tower added in 1904. This church stands at the intersection of Morning Glory Road and Washington Valley Road and still holds services for the local population. The land was originally bought in 1839.
A Google Earth view of the distant Watchung Mountains at the north end of Adamsville Road in Bridgewater, New Jersey. This street is not far from where I often stopped to eat lunch at the Somerset Medical Center in Somerville while delivering the mail. The mountains make for a noble backdrop as you walk along the street and then notice their fascinating, looming presence. Lines to follow with your eyes!
This improvisation is performed upon my vintage 1930's Hohner Regina VI, a 4/ 5 reed instrument with a 41/ 120 treble key and bass button configuration. Here I am thinking about ceremonial themes and engagement of the musical imagination. It is like walking into a room and hearing symphonic, pipe organ or choral passages upon one's entrance. At times I would also imagine such themes as a prologue to a day of hiking in the desert, mountains and canyons of Arizona. When finally arriving home after a day of hiking in the wilderness, I would try to recall these themes as visionary gifts associated with the discovery of natural splendors, like beautiful hummingbirds who hover before human eyes and invite us along on their path of flight.
Some of these sounds have been inspired by listening to the great pipe organs of Aristide Cavaille-Coll. I love the improvisations by Michel Chapuis recorded at Saint Ouen, also the artistry of Gerard Brooks, Vidas Pinkevicius at St. John's Church in Vilnius, Pierre Pincemaille at Saint-Denis, Daniel Roth at Saint-Sulpice, Olivier Latry at Notre-Dame de Paris, Marie-Claire Alain, Ben van Oosten and David Noel-Hudson, among many other notable performers. The recent release of "The Genius of Cavaille-Coll" by Fugue State Films continues to impress me through a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the Cavaille-Coll legacy. Many thanks to Will Fraser and Simon Still for their superbly written historical booklet, and for the fabulous recordings, interviews and performances assembled in this remarkable DVD/ CD presentation.
Following are a series of photographs taken by my friend Mike Davault on our hike through an Arizona canyon not far from Tortilla Flat. It was a breathtaking day in November of 1998 and quite a rugged area for our wilderness journey through the rocks. Years later I would record the video entitled "Fanfares & Reveries for Vintage Hohner Accordion" featured above. I wanted to capture some of the impressions gleaned as we explored the boundaries of this area. The canyon walls rise quite majestically from the floor below, where rocks and huge boulders guard the corridors of this vast refuge in the wilderness. The colors exhibit spectacular variety and richness of palette, with textures everywhere indicating an almost untouched garden of plant life amidst the chiseled rock formations. After a period of rain, delicate green-yellow lichen and moss align the rocks along the course of a miniature stream, feeling soft to one's touch and bringing radiant colors to this canyon wonderland. There is a huge boulder which displays a perfectly flat surface toward the middle of the canyon, a neat place for rest, lunch or listening to the quiet. When you finally reach the lower end of this area, you climb tenuously back up to the road and then gratifyingly admire the area you have just traversed with considerable effort. As always, you should dress appropriately to hike this area, wear very good hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, some food and snacks, and tag along with an experienced friend who knows this part of Arizona fairly well. This is some of the background story, in both pictures and music as inspired by the rugged beauty of Arizona, a place of considerable majesty.
Hiking North of Tortilla Flat, Arizona - A Gallery of Images