– The Assassination of John F. Kennedy – 46 Years Later

October, 1963 – My Sophomore Year

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who was killed on this date in 1963.  At the time of his death, I was a sophomore at George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado.  I had recently turned 15 years old, and had begun keeping a diary only the month before.

I watched the non-stop news coverage of the assassination obsessively, waiting for some detail or explanation that would help make sense of the inconceivable.  Perhaps more real to me than the image of Kennedy as President was my image of him as a family man.  He was only 46 years old when he was killed.  His beautiful wife Jackie was 34, his daughter Caroline almost 6, and his son John Jr. almost 3.  Regardless of one’s politics, they were our First Family, and their loss was our loss.

Writing in my diary was one way I tried to come to grips with something totally outside the realm of my experience, but not for days would I escape a dreamlike sense of unreality.  With a tip of my hat to the boy I was then, I have reproduced below my three entries relating to this historic event.

Friday, November 22, 1963

What a day this has been.  The events of this day still seem unreal to me.  The date, November 22, 1963 will go down in history as one of the most earth-shaking days in this century.

For me it started quite normally.  I was wakened at about 7:00 o’clock.  I dressed and went downstairs.  Mom took me to school because the temperature was twenty-seven degrees.  Today was to be the day of the Thespian play, “The Late Christopher Bean,” and after fourth period I went directly to the ticket booth to sell tickets.  Nobody was in the booth, and this was strange because someone should have sold tickets fourth period.  The treasurer was there and she asked me to go to her office to get the box which contained the tickets, the key to the ticket booth, and five dollars in change.  As I left for her office, I saw a girl lying on the cement deck by the patio door.  I heard someone say that she had hit her head on a metal banister.  I ran to the nurse’s clinic, getting there just before two other girls.  I explained to the nurse that a girl had been hurt, and left the rest up to her.  I then went to the treasurer’s office.  When I returned to the ticket booth, I prepared to sell some tickets.  I saw the girl being carried away on a stretcher.  Just then [School Principal] Mr. Waldman’s voice came over the P.A. system.  He said something to the effect that there had been a great tragedy.  At first I thought he was talking about the unfortunate girl.  He continued, saying, “The President of the United States and the Governor of Texas have been shot.”  I don’t remember the rest of what he said except that they were both in critical condition.  I was completely stunned.  The blood all rushed to my face and my skin became very hot.  Later, when Karen [another Drama Club member] came into the booth, we said very little.  It was just too hard to understand.  In seventh period we were told that Mr. Kennedy had died.  This only confirmed my belief.  It is still hard to grasp the fact that he has been assassinated.  It all seems so unreal.

Saturday, November 23, 1963

I am finally able to grasp the fact that President Kennedy is dead.  Our family has spent almost the entire day watching the television and I am able to relate most of yesterday’s tragic events.

President and Mrs. Kennedy, with Governor and Mrs. Connally, moments before the assassination.

President Kennedy had gone to Texas; although it was classified as a non-political trip to heal the Democratic Party split, most people were sure that it had political connotations, next year being an election year.  He had made a speech in Fort Worth and had then flown to Dallas.  He was in his famous bubble-topped Lincoln Continental with Mrs. Kennedy and Governor and Mrs. John Connally of Texas when three shots rang out.  Two of them hit President Kennedy.  The third hit Governor Connally.  Mrs. Kennedy screamed, “Oh God, he’s been hit.”  The time was 11:30 a.m. MST.  The car then rushed to Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was rushed to the Emergency Room.  The Governor was also rushed to a separate Emergency Room.  Doctors worked frantically for about thirty minutes but at noon he was pronounced dead.  Governor Connally was in critical condition.  President Kennedy had been hit by two bullets, one in the brain, the other in the chest.  Governor Connally had been hit by one, which went through his collarbone, punctured a lung, broke three ribs, and passed out of his body.

There is a prime suspect in the shooting, Lee Harvey Oswald.  He is a self-styled Communist.

President Johnson was sworn into office on the plane that carried President Kennedy to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.  He is our thirty-sixth president.

I don’t think whoever killed Mr. Kennedy could have thought about the profound effect it would have on people of the United States and of the world.  Monday is a day of national mourning.  There will be no school in Denver and in most other cities in the United States.  This assassination has so much effect on this nation and the world that it is impossible to comprehend it.

Tuesday, November 26, 1963

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

There has been so much that has happened in such a short amount of time that it is very hard to grasp the enormity of it.  Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspect in President Kennedy’s assassination, was himself murdered Sunday.  He was being transferred from the city to the county jail when a man, Jack Ruby, stepped out of the crowd of reporters, put a gun into the stomach of Oswald, and pulled the trigger.  Oswald groaned and slumped to the floor.  Police grabbed Ruby and immediately took him into custody.  Oswald was taken to Parkland Hospital, the hospital where President Kennedy died.  He died in a room only ten feet from where Kennedy died.

Maybe tomorrow someone will shoot the man who shot the man who shot President Kennedy.  What a mess.  Who has gained anything?

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

Valentina Lisitsa: Four Encores

After thrilling to her brilliant performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, the audience in Seoul was in no mood to let Valentina Lisitsa leave the stage.  They called her back for no less than four encores, each of which reveals a different aspect of her artistry.  Her first encore was by Franz Liszt, who was himself an admirer of Grieg’s concerto.

“La Campanella”                        by Franz Liszt

“La Campanella” (“The Little Bell”) is the third of six “Grandes Etudes de Paganini” by Liszt, all of which are based on compositions by the great 19th-century Italian violinist and composer Nicolo Paganini, and all of which are notoriously hard to play.  This kind of knuckle-busting difficulty is Valentina Lisitsa’s bread and butter, but as we will see in a moment, she can also play with exquisite sweetness.

“Traumerei” by Robert Schumann

“Traumerei” means “Dreaming”, and this piece is as different as possible from the virtuoso showpieces that Valentina Lisitsa is known for.  She plays it beautifully, and it was this performance more than any other that convinced me of her artistry.

Vladimir Horowitz, for whom “Traumerei” was a signature piece, once related the following incident as a gentle reminder to anyone who might think that slow, lyrical music is easy to play.  A young virtuoso once came to the famous piano class of Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna, and upon being asked to play, stunned everyone with a phenomenal display of virtuosity.  The most difficult music seemed to flow effortlessly from his fingers.  He kept this up for quite some time without as much as a drop of perspiration on his brow.  When he had finished this astonishing performance, someone wistfully asked that he play a simple piece by Schumann, such as “Traumerei”.  Obligingly, the young virtuoso complied, and after four bars he was perspiring profusely!

Prelude in G minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff

The attentive reader may recall that this prelude was featured on this blog in September in a memorable performance by Emil Gilels.  It is unmistakably Russian in character, and very majestic.

“Fur Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven

Valentina’s fourth and final encore was Beethoven’s well-known “Fur Elise”.  You will hear some surprised laughter as she begins to play, as the audience was undoubtedly expecting one of her trademark virtuoso encores, not a student recital piece.  What they got instead was a thoughtful, poignant rendering of this hackneyed Bagatelle, one that demonstrates just how beautiful it can be when played by a true artist.

You can learn more about Valentina at her website: valentinalisitsa.com, and will find many more examples of her playing at her YouTube channel: youtube.com/valentinalisitsa.

Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor Pianist – Valentina Lisitsa

The Piano Concerto in A minor is perhaps the best-known work by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907).  Composed in 1868, the concerto’s first performance took place in 1869 in Copenhagen.  As Geoff Kuenning writes, “It has since become a favorite with audiences worldwide, and with good reason, for from the unforgettably dramatic opening cadenza to the sweepingly grand final chords, the concerto is filled with invention, originality, and sparkle that cannot help but please the ear.”

The soloist in this video is Valentina Lisitsa, whom I first became aware of through YouTube.  In this performance, which took place in December 2008, Valentina is accompanied by the Seoul Philharmonic under the direction of James  Judd.  This collaboration reminds me of a comment by Sarah Chang about music being the one and only universal language: we have a concerto by a Norwegian composer, played by a Ukrainian/American pianist and a Korean orchestra, conducted by an Englishman.

Part 1 includes most of the first movement.  Part 2 begins with the cadenza that concludes the first movement and continues with the lyrical second movement, which always calls to mind – my mind, at least – the great outdoors of Grieg’s native Norway.  Part 3 begins with the end of the second movement, and moves without pause into the third and final movement.  I invite you to note especially the beautiful flute solo which begins at the 3:35 mark, followed by a lovely duet between the piano and first cello.

I hope you feel as I do, that this concerto by Grieg is a joy from beginning to end.  Clearly the audience at this performance in Seoul felt that joy, as they invited Valentina Lisitsa back onstage for four (!) encores, which we will hear in our next post.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 7:19 am  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , , ,

Lola Astanova Plays Chopin

lola astanova2Lola Astanova is no stranger to readers of this blog.  In September, we saw her electrifying performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Sonata.  October featured my extended interview with Lola, which touched on her early life in Tashkent, the influence of Vladimir Horowitz, and her views about contemporary classical music composition, among other subjects.

This month, we hear Lola perform three pieces by Frederic Chopin.  Lola is a passionate interpreter of Chopin; her longtime instructor and legendary piano professor Lev Naumov said of her, “Lola Astanova possesses a rare and truly ingenious intuitive ability.  Chopin performed by Lola is simply outstanding…” – an opinion I think you will share after watching these videos.

For our first video, Lola plays Chopin’s famous Nocturne Op. 27, No 2.  Many musicologists rank the two Nocturnes of Opus 27 among Chopin’s greatest compositions, and Robert Schumann referred to them as “the most heartfelt and transfigured creations evolved in music.”

In our interview last month, Lola spoke about the next piece as follows:  “I guess the first piece that I was consciously truly excited about learning was Chopin’s “Fantasie Impromptu”.  I was about ten years old, but I had heard and loved that piece from the early childhood.  The score looked very busy with lots of notes, so in my mind playing it well somehow symbolized being a good pianist.”

In our final video, Lola gives an impassioned performance of one of Chopin’s most dramatic études (and one of my personal favorites), Op. 25, No. 12.  She also delivers a short message on a subject close to her heart: the need for all of us to continue to support the arts despite a difficult economic climate.

I encourage you to visit http://lolaastanova.com, where you can learn more about Lola and watch additional videos.  You can also purchase her CD, which is entitled “Debut” and features the music of Liszt, Beethoven, and much more by Chopin.

Published in: on November 14, 2009 at 3:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Movie Review: “Gran Torino”

“Nothing propinks like propinquity.” – Ian Fleming

gran-torino“Gran Torino” begins with the funeral service for the late wife of retired auto-worker Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood).  We see at once that Walt is a man at odds with the world around him.  Instead of the show of affection and mutual support we might expect at a funeral, we see clear signs of his estrangement from his family.  Instead of taking some comfort from the Catholic ritual, he must work to hide his disdain for his parish’s baby-faced priest.

The reception at Walt’s home following the service reinforces this impression.  With the sole exception of his dog Daisy, Walt is at odds with everyone, especially the Hmong family that lives next door.  He is visibly angry about the influx of immigrants into his neighborhood, and his sotto voce mutterings reveal a deeply prejudiced man.  Of Polish descent himself, it never occurs to Walt that his own ancestors were once in the same position that his neighbors are in now.  A veteran of the Korean War, he still carries a full complement of wartime prejudices.

His experiences during that war are never far from Walt’s mind; in fact, they live with him constantly.  In a sense, he is still fighting the Korean War, and still seeking absolution for deeds he committed then.  Reflecting on his wartime experiences, he tells the priest, “The thing that haunts a man the most is what he isn’t ordered to do.”

Despite his wish to be left alone, circumstances soon force Walt to interact with his neighbors.  He rescues the older sister Sue (Ahney Her) from the attentions of three young toughs, and works to keep the younger brother Thao (Bee Vang) out of the clutches of a neighborhood gang.  As he spends time with Sue and Thao, he develops a genuine affection for them.  He defends Thao like he would his own son, and finds in him an opportunity to make amends for having kept his own two sons at arm’s length all their lives.  Ultimately, he begins to take pride in Thao, to respect him, and at the movie’s end, tells him, “I’m proud to say that you’re my friend.”

Simply put, “Gran Torino” is about atonement.  Walt is given a chance to atone for his mistakes in raising his sons, and for the needless killing of a young Chinese soldier in Korea.  His willingness to change and to set aside the prejudices of a lifetime is a testament to his underlying decency.  Through Walt’s acceptance of his Hmong neighbors, the movie makes a strong case that you can only hate what you don’t know, and calls to mind a proverb from Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever: “Nothing propinks like propinquity.”

Special mention must be made of the sure hand shown by screenwriter Nick Schenk.  It is his dialog that gives “Gran Torino” much of its punch, not to mention its moments of comic relief, without which it would seem unrelievedly grim.

Clint Eastwood, who turned 79 last May, has lost none of the acting and directing savvy that has marked so much of his recent work, including “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).  “Gran Torino” marks his first acting role since his Oscar-winning turn in “Million Dollar Baby”.  As Walt Kowalski, he is unforgettable, and as director, he elicits excellent performances from the entire supporting cast.  Though you should bear in mind the language and violence of the streets in which the story takes place, this is a Clint Eastwood movie with heart, and I would unhesitatingly recommend “Gran Torino” to anyone old enough to drive.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 8:53 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,