The Well-Tempered Ear

YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Too bad the Wisconsin Union Theater didn’t book a great pianist for next season

May 21, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

“We are living in a Golden Age of pianists,”  famed concert pianist, Juilliard teacher and frequent Madison performer Emanuel Ax (below) has said.

He should know. But you would never guess that from the recently announced next season at the Wisconsin Union Theater (below).

The WUT has not booked a solo pianist for the 2022-23 season.

Here is a link to the lineup for the next season:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/

Is The Ear the only one who has noticed and is disappointed?

Who else feels bad about it?

After all, this is the same presenting organization that brought to Madison such legendary pianists as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Percy Grainger, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Dame Myra Hess, Guiomar Novaes, Egon Petri, Robert Casadesus, William Kapell, Claudio Arrau, Alexander Brailowsky, Gary Graffman, Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Byron Janis, Misha Dichter, Peter Serkin, André Watts, Lili Kraus and Garrick Ohlsson

It is the same hall (below) in which The Ear has heard Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Angela Hewitt, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Valentina Lisitsa, Andras Schiff, Joyce Yang, Yefim Bronfman, Jeremy Denk, Ingrid Fliter, Richard Goode, Leon Fleisher, Simone Dinnerstein, Wu Han and so many other great and memorable names including, of course, Emanuel Ax.

What a history!

As you can see and as The Ear likes to say, the Wisconsin Union Theater is “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.” For over 100 years, it is where the great ones play.

One irony is that many of those former bookings of pianists took place when the University of Wisconsin School of Music had many more pianists on the faculty and provided a major alternative venue for piano recitals.

Another irony is that so many young people take piano lessons (below) and are apt to want to attend, probably with their parents, to hear a live professional concert piano recital. You would think the WUT would also see the advantages of having such community outreach links to the public and to music education, especially since the WUT has hosted Open Piano Day for the public. (See the YouTube video of a Channel 3000 story in February 2020 at the bottom.)

From what The Ear reads, there are lots of up-and-coming pianists, many affordable names of various winners of national and international competitions. They should be affordable as well as worthy of being introduced to the Madison public.

But that seems a mission now largely left to the Salon Piano Series.

Plus, so many of the new pianists are young Asians who have never appeared here, which should be another draw for the socially responsible and diversity-minded WUT.

But that is another story for another day.

What do you think of the WUT not presenting a solo pianist next season?

Maybe there will be a pianist booked for the 2023-24 season.

What pianists would you like see booked by the WUT student programming committee?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Music con Brio starts an annual Black Composers project with a FREE virtual concert

July 1, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Carol Carlson, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Madison-based Music con Brio (below), who is a violinist and holds a doctorate in music from the UW-Madison:

Hello friends,

Happy summer! I hope you are able to enjoy some rest, relaxation and fun in the sun.

I am emailing you because Music con Brio embarked on an exciting new project this year, and I want to share it with you.

In an effort to diversify our repertoire and guest artists, we have launched our new “Music by Black Composers” project. Last winter, our staff chose four pieces of music by Black composers and made student-accessible arrangements of them. 

We then taught these new pieces during our online lessons this spring. On May 8, we gathered together outside at the Goodman Community Center, with four phenomenal local Black guest artists, to professionally record all four pieces.

And now, in lieu of our regular Community Concert Series this year, we are thrilled to present our first-ever Virtual Community Concert!

Click on the link to YouTube video at the bottom to watch and hear the 12-minute performance. Once there, click on Show More to see the composers, pieces and performers.

We are incredibly proud of our students and staff for all their hard work making this so successful. I’m sure you will enjoy their performance!

Please do feel free to pass the video along to anyone else you think might be interested in watching it.

And if you feel so inclined, we would really appreciate a donation in support of this work, which we plan to do every year from now on. To support Music con Brio and our Black Composers project by making a secure, tax-deductible donation, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org/donate/ 

Thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you at a live concert again sometime soon!

If you wish to know more about Music con Brio, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org


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To celebrate Pride month, here are lists of LGBTQ+ composers, performers and musical ensembles 

June 27, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

June is Pride month.

And this weekend will see Pride marches and celebrations in some major cities including New York City, Chicago, Paris and Rome.

As time passes, scholars are finding out more about the LGBTQ+ composers, performers and musical groups that have been hidden by history.

And some ironies emerge. One can only imagine the response of conservative, right-wing Evangelical Christians who find out that the composer of “Messiah” – George Frideric Handel (below) — was queer, at least according to some researchers.

For most listeners, surprises abound.

Here is a good place to start. It is the very large Wikipedia entry of LGBTQ+ composers and performers, both contemporary and historical. The Ear finds it very informative. It is organized by the kind of musicians they are and the category of their sexual identity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_musicians

If you want to be more selective, try these: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/greatest-lgbtq-conductors-you-should-know/. They include Marin Alsop (below top) and her teacher and mentor Leonard Bernstein (below bottom).

Here is longer essay that focuses on lesbian conductors as well as gay men and reaches back to the Middle Ages: http://www.glbtqarchive.com/arts/conductors_A.pdf

And here is one with some great photos or pictures of the individuals: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/great-classical-composers-who-were-gay/

Finally, here are some of the international music ensembles – with audio samples of their performances — made up of LGBTQ+ singers and instrumentalists, including the Rainbow Symphony of Paris (in the YouTube video at the bottom, performing the beautiful Gloria by the gay French composer Francis Poulenc in a benefit Concert Against Homophobia for UNESCO): https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/best-lgbtq-classical-music-ensembles/

Inevitably, some readers will react by asking: What difference does the sexual identity of composer or performer make? All that matters, they argue, is the music.

Here is a reply to that specious argument that focuses on Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below), the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the City Symphony of Montreal. It appeared in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/arts/music/yannick-nezet-seguin-met-opera-gay.html

Happy Pride – this month and every day of the year!

Do you have questions, additions or comments?

Leave them below.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will build a new $25 million home on East Washington Avenue

June 24, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following major announcement to post:

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) has announced plans to construct a new $25 million-building in the 1100 block of East Washington Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin.

The new home will occupy three lots and will replace the historic Avenue Bar (below)

The new music center will continue WYSO’s vision to expand instrumental music education and performance opportunities for young people of diverse backgrounds and inspire excellence and a lifelong connection to music.

More than 500 young musicians from communities throughout southern Wisconsin currently participate in WYSO’s programs. 

This 500 percent growth in student numbers since the organization’s founding is driving the need for facilities large enough to support both the organization’s programs and its mission of providing transformational musical experiences and opportunities.

For more information about WYSO, go to its home website: https://wysomusic.org

The purchase of the property and the kick-off of WYSO’s capital campaign have been made possible by two lead gifts totaling $18 million from Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi, who have long been supporters of the organization. 

The planned 40,000 sq. ft- building will provide state-of-the-art rehearsal spaces sized for full orchestras; a room designed for percussion including a world-class array of percussion instruments; rehearsal rooms perfect for ensembles and chamber music; a piano laboratory; and small teaching studios for private lessons.

The building will also hold all of WYSO’s current orchestra and Music Makers programs, administrative offices, a music library— and provide opportunity to grow. 

But the building will NOT contain public performance spaces. WYSO will continue to rent and use venues that already exist.

Since the fall of 2020, the organization – which used to be located in the UW-Madison School of Music — has been without a home base and has pieced out its program in different facilities throughout the Madison area. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the WYSO Youth Orchestra give a virtual and socially distanced performance last year of the finale of Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell.”) 

This new building will allow all of WYSO’s programs to thrive under a single roof and provide the space, location, resources and connections necessary for WYSO to become a key collaborator in a growing youth arts community.

WYSO’s new home will be around the corner from the newly constructed Madison Youth Arts (My Arts), creating a vibrant youth arts synergy on the near east side. (An architect’s renderings of the exterior and interior theater are below.)

Located on a major transit corridor for easy access with adequate parking, the building will be in proximity to area performing arts venues, with space for WYSO’s programs and community events. 

Says WYSO’s Executive Director Bridget Fraser: “Thanks to the incredible generosity of Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi, musicians of all ages will have state-of-the-art rehearsal facilities to call home. It’s a dream come true!”

WYSO has partnered with Urban Assets, city planners with experience in real estate development; Strang, an integrated architecture, engineering, interior design and planning firm with a history of designing for the civic and cultural sectors; Talaske Sound, experts in architectural acoustics; and J.H. Findorff & Son, a local construction firm passionate about youth education and the arts. 


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Just Bach free concert series seeks Interim Co-Artistic Director. Apply by July 5

June 23, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an interim job at Just Bach:

Do you love the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below)? 

Would you love to perform it every month in one of the most beautiful churches (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) in Madison?

Are you a professional instrumentalist with training and experience in period performance practice?

Do you have strong organizational skills?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then Just Bach needs you!

Because Co-Artistic Director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below) will leave on a sabbatical starting in November, Just Bach is looking for an instrumentalist to join the Artistic Team. (You can check out the typical format by using the search engine on this blog or going to Just Bach’s Facebook page or YouTube Channel.)

 

The popular monthly concert series, which made it to the final round of the 2021 “Best of Madison” awards, seeks an Interim Artistic Co-Director for its upcoming fourth season.

POSITION SUMMARY

The Interim Artistic Co-Director works with the Just Bach team and the staff at Luther Memorial Church to program, produce, promote and perform monthly Bach concerts (below) from September through May.

The Interim Co-Artistic Director helps finalize the programming, contract any remaining needed players, schedule rehearsals and performances, perform in the concerts as needed, and upload the concert video to the Just Bach YouTube channel.

The Co-Artistic Director devotes about 4 hours per month to administrative tasks, on a volunteer basis.

The Co-Artistic Director rehearses and performs as needed in the monthly concerts — and is paid $100 per concert. (You can hear and see the closing concert of this past season in the YouTube video at the bottom. Click on Show More to see other instruments, players, singers and the program.)

The current Artistic Team will provide training for this position, and will be available for assistance once the season begins.

A detailed job description is available at:: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CDis-RSY5FUnfUGCBvYunWZ1fR4EtyfzSo3xYiMyjUs/edit#

For more information, please contact and apply to Just Bach at: justbachseries@gmail.com

APPLICATION ARE DUE BY JULY 5.


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Live music continues its comeback from the pandemic. Today is Make Music Madison with free concerts citywide of many kinds of music. Here are guides with details

June 21, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Live music continues to make its comeback from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The past week saw live outdoor concerts by Con Vivo, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Today – Monday, June 21 –is Make Music Madison 2021.

It is part of an annual worldwide phenomenon that started in France in 1982. It has since spread globally and is now celebrated in more than 1,000 cities in 120 countries.

Yet in the U.S., Wisconsin is one of only five states that celebrate Make Music Day statewide. The other states are Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont. In there U.S., more than 100 cities will take part in presenting free outdoor concerts. Globally, the audience will be in the millions.

The day is intended to be a way to celebrate the annual Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Technically, the solstice occurred in Wisconsin last night, on Father’s Day, at 10:32 p.m. CDT.

But The Ear is a forgiving kind. This will be the first full day of summer, so the spirit of the celebration lives on despite the calendar.

You can see – the composer Igor Stravinsky advised listening with your eyes open – and hear 38 different kinds of music. The choices include blues, bluegrass, Celtic, roots music, gospel, rock, jazz, classical, folk, African music, Asian music, world music, children’s music (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and much more. It will be performed by students and teachers,  amateurs and professionals, individuals and groups.

Here is a link to a press release about the overall event: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/make-music-day-2021-announces-updated-schedule-of-events-301304107.html

And here is a link to the global home website — with more background information and a live-stream video of a gong tribute to the who died of COVID — about the festival: https://www.makemusicday.org

The local events will take place from 5 a.m. to midnight. All are open to the public without admission, and safety protocols will be observed.

Here is a guide to local events that allow you to search particulars of the celebration by area of the city, genre of music, performers, venues and times. If you are a classical fan, in The Ear’s experience you might want to pay special attention to Metcalfe’s market in the Hilldale mall.

Here is a link to the home webpage of Make Music Madison: https://www.makemusicmadison.org

Here is a link to the event calendar with maps and schedules as well as alternative plans in case of rain and various menus for searching: https://www.makemusicmadison.org/listings/

Happy listening!

In the Comment section, please leave your observations and suggestions or advice about the quality and success of the festival and the specific events you attended.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Middleton Community Orchestra performs the second of four FREE outdoor summer concerts at Firemen’s Park this Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

June 19, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Firemen’s Park, the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (MCO) will give the second of its FREE four summer outdoors concerts.

Besides the fact that the day is Father’s Day holiday, weather predictions also call for a good chance of rain or even thunderstorms.

Updates on whether the concert will take place, be cancelled or postponed to a later date, can be found by checking the MCO’s website at 10 a.m.: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Meanwhile, here are the programs, conductors and soloists for the remaining three concerts. All concerts take place in Firemen’s Park in Middleton close to Middleton High School:

CONCERT – SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (revised program)

Sergei Pavlov (below), conductor and professor at Edgewood College

George Walker – “Lyric for Strings”

Ralph Vaughan Williams – “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Giacomo Puccini – Lauretta’s aria from “Gianni Schicchi”; Mimi’s aria in Act 3 and Musetta’s aria in Act 2 from “La Boheme” with soprano Yanzel Rivera (below).

Selections from the Pixar movie COCO (piano and strings)

 

CONCERT – SUNDAY, JULY 25, 11:30 – a.m.-1 p.m.

Chris Ramaekers  (below),  conductor and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky – “March Slav”

Carl Maria von Weber — Clarinet Concerto No. 2 with soloist and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist JJ Koh (below)

Tchaikovsky — Symphony No. 2  “Little Russian”          

CONCERT 4 – SUNDAY, AUG. 15, 11:30-1 p.m.

Sergei Pavlov, conductor 

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist and UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below)


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Madison’s Sonata à Quattro performs TONIGHT online for the prestigious Boston Early Music Festival

June 17, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from the local early music group, Sonata à Quattro (SAQ):

We have a very exciting announcement to share.

Tonight we will be one of the featured ensembles at the 2021 Boston Early Music Festival Fringe Concerts!

The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) is recognized as a national and international leader in the field of early music, and SAQ is thrilled to make its first appearance at this event. 

Concert presented during the Boston Early Music Festival’s 2021 Fringe Concerts.  Learn more at https://bemf.org/2021-festival/fringe-concerts/

The online premiere of the SAQ concert video will be TONIGHT — Thursday, June 17 — at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT, and the musicians will be available to chat during and after the recorded performance.

Please join us at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSfzu6Q6DcU

The 50-minute concert, titled “Musical Meditation and Merriment,” features (below, from left) violinists Christine Hauptly Annin and Leanne League; cellist Charlie Rasmussen; and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt.

This period-instrument quartet will perform the following program: Quartet in G Major, TWV 43:G5 by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); Duo II in D Minor, Op. 19, No. 2, for Violin and Viola by Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812); Duetto III in G Major, Op. 1, No. 3, for Violin and Cello by Giovanni Battista Cirri (1724-1808, below); and Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. “The Lark” by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

The concert was live-streamed and recorded at the United Methodist Church in Whitefish Bay, Wis., on April 13, 2021.

From the austere fugal opening of the Telemann to the jaunty Finale of Haydn’s “Lark” Quartet — heard played by the Jerusalem Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom — this program offers a reflection on the unimaginable year we’ve just experienced, as well as the stirrings of hope, as we awake to a spring and summer of new beginnings.

The slow movements, with their gorgeous string sonorities, range from still, inner contemplation to poignant pleas, while the fast movements outdo one another in wit, verve and sheer joie de vivre.


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